Repeaters 101


There are two main ways a QSO or conversation can begin, one is via a directed call and one is via monitoring. But, before beginning any contact on a repeater always take some time to make sure that it’s not being used by anyone else, tune in the repeater frequency and listen, this is rule #1 of repeater etiquette.

[DIRECTED CALL] A directed call is where one amateur calls another amateur individually, such as "VE7EZI this is VA7AEJ". In this case I am looking for Bob VE7EZI. This is generally not an invitation for anyone other than Bob to return the call immediately. You should repeat this exchange at last two times maybe 20-30 seconds apart giving Bob a chance to hear it, and get to a radio.

After a few attempts If Bob doesn't answer the call, I may just clear off by saying "VA7AEJ, nothing heard I’ll be clear", or I may clear and listen for other calls by saying "VA7AEJ clear and listening, or clear and monitoring". The "and listening" or "and monitoring" implies that I am now interested in hanging around on the repeater and talking with anyone else.

Often on a directed call if the person called does not respond after a few tries others listening might engage the caller by starting a directed call exchange “VA7AEJ, this is Tracy VE7XNY”. Now Tracy is calling me since he knows I’m also on the repeater and Bob did not reply to my exchange.

[MONITORING] The second way to announce that you’re looking for a conversation on a repeater is a monitoring or listening call. There are many acceptable ways to announce this, here are some examples.

  • VA7AEJ monitoring
  • VA7AEJ listening
  • VA7AEJ Portable
  • VA7AEJ Mobile

In each case I’m giving my callsign and a status. That info is telling any listeners my callsign and that I’m looking for conversations, or that I’m driving in my vehicle, or walking around with a hand held. Feel free to combine these to give a little more info for example “VA7AEJ mobile and monitoring”

Calling CQ on a repeater generally not common. Another thing mentioned in repeater etiquette that just saying your callsign only. This is not considered best practice because it doesn’t inform others of your status. However just calling out with your callsign is a very common thing and I’ve never heard anyone frown upon it on any of our local repeaters. Think of these practices like greetings in real life, you could just say “hey” to someone you just met, or you could be more formal and polite and say “hi, nice to meet you”.

[JOINING A CONVERSATION] If there is a conversation taking place which you would like to join, simply state your Callsign or say Contact when one of the other users unkeys their mic. Saying Contact is generally the quicker method so it’s the one people tend to use. One of the stations in the QSO, usually the station that was about to begin his transmission, will now stop and address you which gives you the opening to join in the conversation. Good etiquette is don't interrupt a QSO unless you have something to add to the topic at hand.

[INTERUPTING A CONVERSATION] Interrupting a QSO to make a directed call. First off we don’t have this problem a lot since it would typically occur on very busy repeaters. And secondly it would have to be a fairly important contact for you to interrupt other people’s conversation to start your own. However, there may be situations where it occurs.  So, if you need to interrupt an ongoing conversation to make a directed call you interrupt the conversation during a break in transmission by saying "Call please, VA7AEJ". One of the stations should now allow you to make your call. If the station you are calling returns your call, you should very quickly pass traffic to them and very politely relinquish the frequency back to the stations who were in the original QSO. Never get into a full QSO in the middle of someone else's conversation. If you need to speak with your other party for any length of time, (say, more than 15-20 seconds), ask them to either wait until the current QSO has cleared, or ask them to move to another repeater or simplex channel to continue the conversation.

A second type of interruption on a repeater is for an emergency, this is typically defined as a life threatening event. Use the term BREAK typically saying it twice so “BREAK, BREAK” to stop a conversation on a repeater for an emergency. Those involved in the conversation should stop immediately and grant you full access to the repeater. It would be helpful for these other amateur radio operators to stay present and assist in any way possible which may include relaying a call on a land line call to 911 or other emergency services.

[ID’ING] So we’ve covered ways to start or enter a conversation on a repeater Next is our legal responsibility to ID. By Canadian rules you must ID at the start and the end of every conversation. If the conversation is long, you must ID at least every 30 minutes. In the US those rules are every 10 minutes, and they vary in other countries as well. So your safe bet is get into the practice of doing it every 10 minutes in any conversation. It’s good practice, it helps listeners who have tuned in mid-conversation, and it prepares you for proper protocol even when transmitting in foreign countries or on linked repeaters which reach into foreign countries.

When identifying yourself and another party (or parties), your callsign always goes last. So an ID might sound like "VE7EZI with VA7AEJ" this means that VA7AEJ (me) is talking with Bob VE7EZI, not the other way around. There is no need to identify each time you make a transmission, just do it once every 10 minutes. You do not always need to identify the stations in your conversation, but it is generally polite to remember their call signs  and ID on their behalf since it’s the quickest way to satisfy the legal requirement to ID.

[GROUP CONVERATIONS] Roundtables and "Turning it Over". When more than two amateurs are in a QSO, it is often referred to as a "roundtable" discussion. Such a QSO usually goes in order from amateur A to amateur B to amateur C and eventually back to amateur A again to complete the roundtable. To keep everyone on the same page, when any one amateur is done making a transmission, they "turn it over" to the next station in sequence (or out of sequence, if so desired). Without turning it over to a particular station when there are multiple stations in the QSO, nobody knows who is supposed to go next, and there ends up either being dead silence or several stations talking at once. At the end of a transmission, turn it over to the next station by naming them or giving their callsign, such as "...and that's that. So go ahead Bob." or "....and that's that. Over to VE7EZI and the group." If it's been close to 10 minutes, it's also a good time to identify at the same time, such as "...and that's that. This is VA7AEJ, go ahead Bob."

[TEST AND DEMOS] When configuring a radio, antenna, or change in your station you probably want to test it out. Calling out on a repeater like for instance “VA7AEJ Test” you are indicating that you need some assistance on the air and some quick feedback. Other common tests are ID’ing and asking for a signal report, or asking for a demo. Both require another amateur radio operator to come on and help you out. For anyone responding to your request their expectation is that you’ll be quick and won’t tie them up for longer than a minute or two. Don’t use a test as an opportunity to drag someone into a QSO when they expected a quick in, and out, conversation.

Demos are when an amateur wants to demonstrate their radio and the repeaters capabilities to another person at their location who may or may not be another amateur radio operator. The typical way to do this is to ask for a "demo" such as "VA7AEJ for a demonstration." Anyone who is listening to the repeater can answer them back. Usually telling the calling party your name, callsign, and location is what they are looking for, not a lengthy conversation. Someone doing a demo may ask for stations in a particular area to show the range of amateur radio communications, such as if the calling station is in the Vernon they may ask for any stations in Kamloops, or Penticton which is more interesting than demonstrating that they can talk to someone in the Vernon area.


  • DO NOT Kerchunk the repeater. Any time you key up the repeater, you should identify, even if you are just testing to see if you are making it into the machine. "VA7AEJ just testing, no reply required" is sufficient.
  • If you need someone to verify that you are making it into the repeater OK, ask for a signal report such as "VA7AEJ, can someone please give me a signal report?"
  • Avoid CB terms, there are no 10-4’s and “Over and Out’s” in amateur radio.
  • You do not need to use phonetics on FM unless you want to or have a reason for using them, such as the other station misunderstanding your callsign. And when phonetics are needed, stick to the standard phonetic alphabet. When (and I’ve just made this up), when VE7PBJ calls himself Victor Echo 7 Peanut Butter Jelly it may be amusing, but it can confuse other operators. So save these home made phoenetics for between your close friends in the hobby.
  • Except when required for control or identification purposes, extraneous audible content should NOT be transmitted before, during or at the completion of a transmission. This includes tones produced by your radio, or background noise like radios and TV.
  • “Off Color” comments, sexual innuendo and ANY double interpretation of words. And remember, use of codes and ciphers is NOT permitted by regulations. If it can't be said in plain English, it should not be transmitted on the repeater.
  • Commercial communication: you can, certainly, identify your occupation and describe what you do, however, if you are for example, a salesman, you CANNOT try to sell your wares on the repeater.
  • Derogatory remarks directed at any group (ethnic, racial, religious, sexual etc).
  • “Bathroom Humor”: If you wouldn't tell the joke to your ten-year-old, don't tell it on the repeater.
  • Any activity in violation of the rules including, but not limited to: jamming, “stepping on”, broadcasting of music, unidentified carrier is prohibited. Intentionally transmitting simultaneously with another station is prohibited, even if the intent is good natured kidding among friends… it is still illegal.

So that concludes the lesson, as you’ve probably figured out proper and legal operating etiquette is 99% common sense. Anyone have any questions?